Thursday, September 26, 2013

Game, Set, Match: Serena 32 Years in the Making

If you haven't watched it, stop reading
an add to your Netflix queue now
The documentary "Venus and Serena" states that "the great enemy of every athlete is age." The irony is that the subjects of the film defy that very truth.  Today, September 26, 2013 is Serena Williams 32nd birthday. She is the oldest woman number one player in the Women's Tennis Association's (WTA) history.

I don't need a reason to write or continue a conversation about Ms. Williams.  She is the subject of a story no one could contrive. Only one of two African American women to be number one in the world, she shares that title with no one else but her older sister, Venus. I celebrate her gift to tennis, the United States and athletics today.

Game: The impact she has had on the game is astounding. It's worth reading the introduction on her Wikipedia page as it captures the sheer magnitude of just how dominant a player she has been and remains (I will reference that here because it frames her success in a narrative; the WTA features listings of titles, by year, etc.)  
Williams holds the most Major singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles combined amongst active players, male or female. She is the only player to have achieved a Career Golden Slam in both singles and doubles. Her record of 32 Grand Slam titles ties her for eighth on the all-time list: 17 in singles, 13 in women's doubles, and 2 in mixed doubles. She is the most recent player, male or female, to have held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously ('02–'03) and only the fifth woman ever to do so. Her total of 17 Grand Slam singles titles is sixth on the all-time list,[9] and fourth in the Open Era, behind Steffi Graf (22 titles) and Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova (18 titles each).[9] She has won 13 Grand Slam doubles titles with her sister Venus Williams and the pair are unbeaten in Grand Slam finals. She has four Olympic gold medals.
Honestly, I could include more information.  But for the purpose of this blog I simply want to reiterate (in addition to her manifold achievements listed above) the wonder of God's creation, I see in Serena Williams. The game is more exciting, more fun to watch and more athletic because of her. Her serve has been clocked at 125 mph. Although the average player on the women's tour is 24 (among women in the top 10), Serena has only gotten better, faster and stronger.  
Richard Williams: Genius or Madman?
Set: Before they were born, Serena's father and coach Richard Williams was set on one thing—his daughters would become number one in the world.  He wrote an 80-page "manifesto" if you will, outlining how he would raise his daughters—born just 15-months apart to dominate tennis.

Why tennis? Richard Williams, admitted it was because he wanted to make money. The prize money, salaries and earnings in other professional female sports pale in comparison to what tennis can provide. Vocal and unapologetic, Richard Williams is as complicated a character as Serena appears to be. In describing him to a friend, I could not help but wonder, Is he a genius or a madman?
I just love this photo
His daughters' success is because of that genius. They learned fundamentals of the game par excellance coupled with an unconventional training regime he created.  Venus and Serena took Jazz dance and boxed to develop fast footwork, they learned to throw the football because it simulates the service motion. Mr. Williams even went so far as to find players that another coach knew were cheaters; he knew that type of player would challenge their mental cool.

The Williams grew up on the public courts of Compton, CA. They were largely homeschooled and driven by their father to focus everything on tennis. Venus said "we never went to parties or did things that most children do." But their father's dream for his daughters came to fruition. Serena Williams net worth is now over $100 million dollars.  They have faced racial prejudice in their sport on the circuit and from tennis fans. Every step of the way, Richard Williams has been by his daughters side being Richard Williams. What he set out to achieve is what and who we watch today.
Joy in action.
Match: Venus is Serena's match. Serena says she played tennis because she wanted to be just like her older sister. Everything Venus did, she wanted to do. And yet, Serena never indicates, articulates or reveals that she wanted to do it "better." Today, Venus, who is currently ranked #63 in the world, if often sitting in the stands, cheering for Serena. And you know what? she looks as happy for her to win and when she won.  

In 2002, when Serena defeated her sister for her first Wimbledon title, Venus ran to a camera man to take a picture to capture the moment. She is the calm to Serena's chaos. She is a tall drink of water whereas Serena is a muscle machine. Her career has been affected by a rare auto-immune disease but she continues to participate in the game that she loves and can't want to imagine a life without tennis. She doesn't want to.

I make a point of looking for "joy in action." Watching those two sisters play doubles tennis together, one can't help but notice how much they love each other and the game that has defined them.

The number one and number two tennis players in the world (at the time of this photo!)
Serena: Serena Williams has overcome health issues, racial discrimination, poverty, and more. She has also allowed herself to be the subject of drama, discipline (or lack of it) and dynamism. I'm grateful she is on the tour and I hope she breaks the record as the all-time winningest female athlete.  Game, set, match: SERENA.

Photo Credits 
Young Venus and Serena
Double Win
Joy in action

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